Danish researchers have found that there has been an 8.2% decline in Arctic sea ice over the last ten years, with sea ice levels reaching a record low for the month of October in 2020, according to Al Jazeera. Rising air and ocean temperatures have made it difficult for the ice to recover from higher summer temperatures, and these higher temperatures have been reducing both the summer and winter extent of the ice. This comes after researchers noted the second lowest extent of sea ice recorded in the Arctic in September of 2020, with the lowest extent ever having been recorded in 2012. According to the Danish research team from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), warmer than normal seawater slowed the formation of new sea ice in October of 2020, highlighting the strong effects of climate change that are already posing major risks to the vulnerable region. DMI reports that seawater temperatures in the eastern Arctic, just north of Siberia, were two to four degrees Celsius warmer than usual. This follows a trend that has been observed in recent years, in what the institute describes as a “vicious spiral”.
Rasmus Tonboe, a scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told Al Jazeera that the record low level of ice in October 2020 was unequalled for at least 40 years. “It’s a trend we’ve been seeing the past years with a longer open-water season making the sun warm the sea for a longer time, resulting in shorter winters so the ice doesn’t grow as thick as it used to,” Tonboe said. With less ice in the water sunlight gets absorbed in the ocean rather than reflecting off of the ice, which helps to further warm the sea and the Earth as a whole, according to Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist at NASA. Additionally, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany said that under the current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the continued melting of Arctic sea ice would raise global temperatures by 0.2 degrees Celsius.
Although the Arctic’s sea ice has declined in recent decades, the region has been the site of growing strategic interest for world powers. The presence of less ice has opened up new maritime and shipping routes, and the Arctic is estimated to house 13% of the world’s oil reserves and 30% of undiscovered natural gas deposits, Al Jazeera reports. This means the Arctic is financially significant for the eight states who own parts of the Arctic, which include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
As sea ice in the Arctic continues to struggle to recover from higher air and water temperatures, it is imperative that international action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are huge contributors to rising global temperatures, and if they are not greatly reduced there will be catastrophic consequences not only for the Arctic and everywhere else in the world. The United States and Russia, two nations who hold territory in the Arctic, are also currently some of the world’s largest emitters and contribute largely to climate change. As long as global emissions continue on their current trajectory, it is not only the sea ice in the Arctic that will be threatened, but glaciers like the Greenland ice sheet could melt and cause sea levels to rise up to 20 feet, rendering thousands of coastal communities vulnerable. It is time for nations to take the threat of climate crisis seriously and implement aggressive policies to curb global emissions and slow rising temperatures. Ensuring the survival of Arctic sea ice and glaciers is essential to combatting the climate crisis, and action needs to be taken now to prevent any further decline of sea ice levels.
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